Hey, everyone! Long time, no see. How are things?
I just wanted to let people know I'm back in the industry
, so to speak—only this time for good! I've joined the team at FreshBooks here in Toronto. We operate a successful online invoicing service with time tracking and support ticketing tools. It's really neat stuff, and I'm very happy to be a part of it.
I'm now entering my fourth week here at the company. For now my role involves jockeying the phones, running the support operation, getting intimately familiar with our product and lending a hand with various other things from time to time. I'm absolutely loving being involved with a small PHP-based development project again... it's definitely leading me to reminisce about all the good times I had here at phpBB.com, back in the early 2.0 days.
Not-so-coincidentally, one of my first major responsibilities here at FreshBooks is a community-building project. We've recently released the first version of our XML API; this platform allows external access to some of the core functionality of our software. Eventually the API will expose every bit of the functionality that our interface does, at which point we'll be re-building our own interface right on top of our platform. "Eating our own dog food," so to speak. It's really exciting stuff, and opens up a lot of brand new opportunities for us and our users. As phpBB has exemplified for many years now, the separation of front-end from back-end adds a massive amount of flexibility to any piece of software. And we think adding external access to the back-end will really help people use our services however they like.
In the coming months, I'll be doing my best to build a vibrant development community around our API, alongside an improved support community for our users. We're looking to take advantage of our large, active user base to reduce our support load and improve response times, especially outside of our regular business hours. This should greatly improve the user experience, and allow us to spend more time developing new features and actively participating in our development community. It will also allow us to create more in-house tools to share with our users, and offer better assistance to folks building applications of their own.
Now, yes, we do charge monthly fees to clients who upgrade from our starter package, and we are a for-profit corporation with closed-source software and paid employees. So I fully understand this will immediately turn many of you off—trust me, I fully understand the allegiance to open-source software, having been a loyal member of the phpBB community for many years myself.
But note that our base package includes our full services completely free and completely unhindered, with no time limit. And our support is completely free, for everybody, all the time. So there's absolutely no barrier to entry, especially from the development side. Anybody can do anything they like.
So I'm hoping some of you might be willing to discuss your experiences where you've been part of successfully building a community, from the ground up, around the development and support of a niche web-based product. I'm sure my experiences here at phpBB.com should prove immensely valuable; there were plenty of lessons learned and mistakes made. But I'd love to hear about other communities as well. How did you first draw people to the site? How did you get them to stay? How did you encourage participation? In my opinion, these are the keys to a wildly successful community like phpBB.com, and as we've all seen, a strong community like that can keep a project going through thick and thin.
I'm especially interested in hearing from anybody who added a community aspect to an already successful web-based service. Did you make people sign up separately for your community, did you tie in the authentication, or did you make registration seamless from within the software? How did you encourage people to take part? I'd love to hear anything you've got.
Or, you know, if you just want to make fun of the size of my nostrils in my photo, it could be just like old times. Really, the field's wide open here.
It's good to be back! Olympus feels just incredible, and I'm looking forward to seeing what she can do. Congratulations to the whole group on a fantastic job done.